How To Dial Down The Heat On Your High-Conflict Co-Parenting Relationship


Do you secretly dream of the day when your kids become adults so you no longer have to communicate with your ex? High-conflict co-parenting can be exhausting and can drain the enjoyment from raising children. Although you can’t change your ex, you can adopt strategies to change the way you relate to this person. Here are some tips for dialing down the heat on your contentious co-parenting relationship.

Use a low-conflict communication protocol. It’s easy to fire off a knee-jerk reaction to your ex’s obnoxious email, but at the same time, you know that will just fuel unnecessary drama. In order to decrease conflict, it’s vital to understand that nothing you say or write will change the past, or your ex’s personality. You are communicating with your co-parent for one reason only: to share information about your kids. So, when writing your ex, keep these guidelines in mind: be concise, share facts only (your opinion about his or her shoddy parenting is not a fact!), use a neutral tone, and be firm, i.e., don’t engage in a protracted negotiation.

Respect your ex’s boundaries – and yours. High-conflict co-parents are often unable to coordinate house rules because any communication leads to disagreements. If this is your situation, it’s far better for your kids to adapt to different rules and parenting styles than to be subjected to more fighting. Divorce means you don’t get to tell your ex how to run their house (and vice versa). If your former spouse is the intrusive one, try not to get defensive and assure him you’ve got things covered.

Don’t triangulate the kids. Bad-mouthing your ex to your kids, or telling them to call you if they don’t like the rules at Dad’s house (see boundaries, above!), will ramp up co-parenting conflict. If your ex is doing anything truly egregious, i.e. violating the court order, consult an attorney and leave your kids out of it. If your kids repeat things your ex has told them about you, calmly correct any inaccuracies and explain that it’s not their job to work out adult problems.

Sweep your side of the street. Unless your ex is refusing to pay child support, violating the court order, or is jeopardizing your children’s safety, there is no reason to focus on what he or she is doing, thinking, or feeling. Inventorying your ex’s shortcomings will simply make you resentful and more likely to communicate or behave unskillfully. The next time you find yourself obsessing about your former spouse’s foibles, shift your focus back to yourself and figure out what you could do to improve your co-parenting relationship.

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High Conflict Divorce: When Co-Parenting Doesn’t Work, Try Parallel Parenting

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